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Make mushrooms the center of attention


A coconut milk and green chile sauce brightens up earthy mushrooms and winter squash, in New York, Oct. 4, 2017. With fall weather approaching, adding some autumn vegetables to curry will provide for a heartier meal. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times)

I had mushrooms on my mind, like an insidious song going round and round in my brain. It became clear there was only one way to stop the cycle: have some for dinner.

Rather than the Italianate mushroom stew I often make to serve with polenta, I craved something with more personality, perhaps a spicy, creamy curry. Curried mushrooms, curried mushrooms, sang the inner voice.

Whenever I’m cooking with Indian ingredients, I consult one of Madhur Jaffrey’s many cookbooks for guidance and inspiration. Jaffrey’s recipes are inventively streamlined for non-Indian cooks, but with no sacrifice of flavor. In “Vegetarian India” (Knopf, 2015), she offers several mushroom curries from different regions.

With fall weather approaching, I decided my curry also needed some autumn vegetables, for a heartier meal. Sautéed cubes of butternut squash, with their warm color, appealed to me the most — though sweet potatoes, parsnips or carrots would work, too.

Of course, ordinary button mushrooms can be used, but a mixture of cultivated mushrooms in all shapes and sizes makes a splashier dish. I like oyster mushrooms, especially royal trumpets, a large, meaty type. A few shiitake caps (the stems are tough, best used for making stock) contribute a woodsy flavor, and small brown portobellos add depth. Tiny white enoki are beautiful, too, and can be stirred into the curry right at the end.

For a more deluxe version, I was lucky enough to get my hands on some wild golden chanterelles.

There are just a few spices and seasonings to assemble: green chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne and turmeric. Fresh curry leaves, if you can find them, are aromatic and floral when simmered with the mushrooms. Most Indian groceries have them, fresh or frozen. Substitute whole basil leaves if you wish, or go without.

You can make this curry as spicy as you wish, but be sure to include at least a little cayenne and green chilies, to play off the creamy coconut sauce. A final addition of lime juice supplies a welcome hit of acidity.

This is welcome comfort food, Indian-style: bright, rich and ready in less than an hour.

Winter Squash and Wild Mushroom Curry

Servings: 4 to 6

Preparation time: 30 minutes

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

10 ounces butternut or other winter squash, peeled and diced in 1/2-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 or 2 small whole green chilies, such as jalapeño or serrano

3 medium shallots or 1 small onion, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

Handful of fresh or frozen curry leaves, optional

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Pinch of cayenne

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 pound mushrooms, preferably a mix of cultivated and wild, trimmed and sliced 1/8-inch thick

3/4 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons lime juice

Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

1. In a wide skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add squash cubes in one layer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes, letting cubes brown slightly, then flip and cook for 2 minutes more. Use a slotted spoon to lift squash out, and set aside.

2. Cut a lengthwise slit in each pepper to open it, but leave whole. (This allows the heat and flavor of the chilies to release into the sauce without making it too spicy.)

3. Add shallots to skillet, salt lightly and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves and let sizzle for 30 seconds, then add garlic, coriander, cayenne, turmeric and chilies. Stir well and cook for 30 seconds more.

4. Add mushrooms to pan, season with salt and toss to coat. Continue to cook, stirring, until mushrooms begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

5. Return squash cubes to pan, stir in coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to medium and simmer for another 5 minutes. If mixture looks dry, thin with a little water. Taste and season with salt.

6. Just before serving, stir in lime juice. Transfer to a warm serving dish and garnish with cilantro leaves.